Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
For some weeks now there have been persistent reports about Taliban leader Mullah Omar, asking fighters in the Pakistani Taliban to stop carrying out attacks there and instead focus on Afghanistan where Western forces are being bolstered.
The reclusive one-eyed leader had in December sent emissaries to ask leaders of the Pakistani Taliban to settle their differences, scale down activities in Pakistan and help mount a spring offensive against the build-up of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a report in the New York Times said as recently as last week.
But the attacks haven’t stopped. If anything they have become even more brazen, with the Sri Lankan cricket team attacked in Lahore earlier this month and then Monday’s rampage through a police academy, again in Lahore. Between these two major attacks, there has a been suicide bombing in a mosque in the northwest near the Afghan border, a car bombing outside Peshawar and a blast in Rawalpindi, turning March into one of the bloodiest months in recent times.
And on Tuesday, Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a rather rare move, claimed responsibiity for the storming of the police training centre in Lahore, destroying whatever was left of Mullah Omar’s reported calls for cooling off in Pakistan.
Read President Barack Obama’s speech on his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and compare it to what he said a year ago and it’s hard to see how much further forward we are in understanding exactly how he intends to uproot Islamist militants inside Pakistan.
Last year, Obama said that ”If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.” Last week, he said that, ”Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken — one way or another — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.”
U.S. President Barack Obama set out his strategy to fight the war in Afghanistan on Friday, committing 4,000 military trainers and many more civillian personnel to the country, increasing military and financial aid to stabilise Pakistan and signalling that the door for reconciliation was open in Afghanistan for those who had taken to arms because of coercion or for a price.
He said the situation was increasingly perilous, with 2008 the bloodiest year for American forces in Afghanistan. But the United States was determined to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan”, he said, warning that attacks on the United States were being plotted even now.
- Joshua Foust is a defense consultant who has just spent the last 10 weeks embedded with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He also blogs at Registan.net. Any opinions expressed are his own. -
It is a cliché that, in counterinsurgency, one must be among “the people”. In Iraq, the U.S. Army did this to great effect under the leadership of General David Petraeus, moving large numbers of soldiers off the enormous bases and into smaller, community-oriented security outposts. As a result, in densely populated urban areas like Baghdad, an active presence of troops played a significant role in calming the worst of the violence. The Western Coalition forces in Afghanistan, however, face an altogether different problem. Kabul is not Baghdad – far less of Afghanistan’s population lives there than in Iraq, and the insurgency is concentrated outside the country’s largest urban areas. In many urban areas-Herat in the west, Jalalabad in the east, Mazar-i Sharif in the north-a westerner is far safer in the city itself than out in the countryside.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group blamed by India for last November’s assault on Mumbai, has threatened more violence in Kashmir after a five-day gunbattle that killed 25 people, including eight Indian troops.
A spokesman for the group, speaking from an undisclosed location, said: “India should understand the freedom struggle in Kashmir was not over, it is active with full force.”
Afghanistan sits on one of the largest mineral deposits in the region, the country’s mines minister told Reuters in an interview this month.
And the Chinese are already there, braving the Taliban upsurge and a slowing economy at home to invest in the vast Aynak copper field south of Kabul, reputed to hold one of the largest deposits of the metal in the world.
The debate about whether the United States should open talks with Afghan insurgents appears to be gathering momentum — so much so that it is beginning to acquire an air of inevitability, without there ever being a specific policy announcement.
The U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, became the latest to call for talks when he told France’s Le Monde newspaper that reconciliation was an essential element. “But it is important to talk to the people who count,” he said. ”A fragmented approach to the insurgency will not work. You need to be ambitious and include all the Taliban movement.”
Among the black-suited crowd celebrating Pakistani judge Iftikhar Chaudhry’s reinstatement as the head of the Supreme Court outside his home in Islamabad this week was a woman with a bouquet in her hand and a prayer in her heart.
Amina Janjua’s husband went missing in July 2005, one of hundreds that rights activists allege have been held without judicial process in secret detentions centres as Pakistan’s part in the campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Her husband’s case was one of the dozens that Chaudhry had taken up in his campaign to fix accountability for the missing people, before he was sacked in November 2007.
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. Wajid Shamsul Hasan is the High Commissioner of Pakistan to Britain and a former adviser to the late Benazir Bhutto.
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan High Commissioner
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has put out a paper on the need to reform Pakistan’s intelligence agencies just as army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is winning much praise for playing what is seen as a decisive role in defusing the country’s latest political crisis and saving democracy.
French scholar Frederic Grare says in the paper the reform and “depoliticisation” of the agencies, in particular the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is imperative.